What sort of information retrieval system would you build if you knew that all the users of your system would be expert or highly-motivated amateur searchers? What sort of system would you build when you have a very large collection of unstructured information, and the goal in searching that information is not to find one document (e.g. navigate to a home page), but to find (a) relationships between documents, or (b) large sets of documents that all pertain to a single topic? How would your algorithms be different? How would your interfaces be difference? How would the process itself (that middle layer in between algorithms and interfaces) be different?
Via Daniel Tunkelang’s recent post, I think that Government information might be a perfect domain in which to ask (and answer) these sorts of questions. The U.S. Open Government Initiative has as its goal the release of loads of raw government data for use by any individual or organization. How are people going to use this data? What types of questions will they ask? What types of questions could they ask, if given the proper tools (i.e. what might they not know that they want to ask, until it becomes possible?)
Two types of information retrieval might be perfect for this domain: Exploratory Search and (Explicitly) Collaborative Search. Continue reading